Peter Schwartz

Altruism, the Gaza War and the Law of Causality


When someone is killed because, say, a hurricane made his roof cave in, journalists understand the need to explain that occurrence. They don’t simply report that Mr. Jones died when a heavy beam fell on his skull. Rather, they report that a hurricane blew in the roof, thereby making the beam fall. Perhaps they tell us about previous deaths, as well as expected future ones, resulting from the storm. That is, the news reports focus on the primary cause of Mr. Jones’ death.

In reporting on the current Gaza War, however, many journalists have abandoned this logical approach. Instead, they present effects without the real cause. They show the bombed houses and the wounded children, and attribute it all to the most proximate, perceptually observable “cause”: Israeli firepower. What is being ignored, of course, is the primary cause of the carnage: the aggression initiated by Hamas.

When police confront an armed robber and gunfire ensues, the cause is the robber. The existence of a police officer does not cause a need for the existence of criminals. The reverse, though, is true—the existence of criminals gives rise to the need for police. Aggression is the cause, self-defense is the resulting response. The Gaza story, if it were based on the principle of causality, would not be “Gazan Children Are Killed by Israeli Bombs,” but “Deaths of Gazan Children Are Byproducts of Hamas Attacks.”

And if we want to probe further—to find the deeper cause of the cause—we would look at the respective philosophies of Hamas and Israel. Hamas runs a theocratic state, a little fiefdom of Islamic totalitarianism, with a charter that demands the extermination of all Jews. Rape and “honor killings” are common and regularly go unpunished, while affronts to the Koran, from apostasy to homosexuality, are punishable by death. The news media in Gaza are controlled by the government and no public criticism of Hamas is tolerated.

Israel, by contrast, is an oasis of freedom in that part of the world. It has a free, critical press and an independent judiciary. Religions are freely practiced, as evidenced by the hundreds of mosques in Israel. Pro-Palestinian political parties abound (with some even having been elected to the Knesset). An Arab in Israel enjoys far greater rights than he would living in Gaza, or in any other Middle East nation today.

A tyrannical government is as hostile toward the rights of its own citizens as toward the rights of people in other countries. In the current conflict, Hamas wants to maximize the number of Israeli casualties, even at the expense of its own citizens. So it showers rockets on Israeli populations centers—and deploys those rockets near or in schools and homes, so that civilians are killed when Israel retaliates. It keeps Gazans from entering bomb shelters (which are reserved for the Hamas military), and it tells its citizens not to leave areas that are being targeted by Israeli missiles—even after they have received advance warnings to evacuate by the Israeli Defense Force. The more dead bodies Hamas can display to the world, the more it believes it can win the propaganda war.

A criminal has no right to demand to be left free to conduct his illicit activities—and neither does a criminal government (nor does it even have a right to govern). When a free country is threatened or attacked by an authoritarian one, the latter is the cause of the ensuing suffering. In the Gaza War, Hamas is the cause—its rockets are the cause, its threat of terrorism is the cause, its brutal disregard for human rights and human life is the cause. (See “Israel Has a Moral Right to its Life.”)

Why, then, does the world express such compassion toward Gaza and condemnation toward Israel? Why do people ignore this obvious cause-and-effect relationship? Because they are being guided by the code of altruism—a code that disavows the law of causality.

Altruism does not mean benevolence; it does not mean respecting the rights of your neighbor. Rather, it means servitude. It means that you must subordinate yourself to the needs of your neighbor. It means that you must suffer in order that someone else might benefit. It means that if anyone lacks something you have, you must sacrifice for his sake, because his need constitutes a moral claim against you.

Thus, if you encounter a homeless man who is panhandling on the streets, the doctrine of altruism declares that you have a duty to give him your money. It doesn’t matter why he is homeless, it doesn’t matter that he is a drug addict unwilling to cure his habit, it doesn’t matter that any money you give him will be used for his next fix, it doesn’t matter that he is the cause of his own misery. All that matters, according to altruism, is that you have money and he doesn’t. All that matters is the sheer fact of his need, regardless of its cause.

Similarly, in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, altruism declares that it does not matter which party is the cause; all that matters is that the Palestinians have needs and the Israelis can alleviate them. If sacrifice is a virtue, then the strong must give themselves up for the sake of the weak, the productive for the sake of the non-productive, the free for the sake of the unfree. That’s what sacrifice means. (That’s why in the early years of its existence, Israel was solidly supported by liberals; back then it was the Arabs who were seen as strong, and the Israelis as outnumbered underdogs.)

The same devastating code underlies the accusations about “innocent” civilian casualties. Inasmuch as the Gaza population largely supports Hamas and endorses the destruction of Israel, it would be hard to find many innocent civilians there. But let’s grant that there are some—at the very least, young children qualify. Nonetheless, when one side in a war is fighting in self-defense, every innocent killed is the responsibility of the aggressor—is entirely the responsibility of the aggressor.

Israel’s problem is not that it is too militant, but too conciliatory. It is needlessly restricting the scope of its military activities, for fear of being blamed for civilian casualties. It is refraining from wiping out Hamas and its complete arsenal, while placing its own soldiers in greater jeopardy (and if protecting the innocent is one’s concern, those soldiers belong in that category). In doing so, Israel is capitulating to the unjust imperatives of altruism. All such casualties are in fact being caused by Hamas. It’s as if some gunman knocks on your door and says to you: “If you don’t let me shoot you, I will target some innocent passerby.” Should you have to sacrifice your life to his demands? Wouldn’t the proper response be to repudiate the doctrine of self-sacrifice? Wouldn’t the proper response be, not to give in or to negotiate some “compromise,” but to annihilate this enemy and prevent him from threatening you, or any other passerby, ever again? Wouldn’t the proper response be to uphold the principle that your life is your own, that you have a right to live it and to defend it, and that allowing the terms of your existence to be set by the demands of others—particularly by the demands of vicious thugs—is a perversion of morality?

Hamas knows it can’t win militarily. The only victory it can achieve is in the “propaganda war,” which actually means: the morality war—the war over which side is morally right. And as long as the doctrine of altruism is the standard, Hamas will continue to draw sympathy instead of unequivocal denunciation.♦♦

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